What I Learned From Making a Haunted House

Halloween 2016

A few weeks before Halloween I was having dinner with my friend Arron. Arron works at a center for developmentally disabled young adults. He teaches them about plants and maintains the center’s nursery.

Arron was telling me that he was building a haunted house for their Halloween party the Friday before Halloween; which fell on a Monday this year. For obvious reasons he wouldn’t have anyone jumping at people, but he was going to be working with them to design and build creepy decorations.

A few years ago, Arron and I had some mutual friends. It’s actually how we met. And for Halloween, three years in a row, we would set stuff up around there house, hide and scare people. We were all poor, some of us dead broke, we did that for free.

But Arron’s new project excited me. I said, “Hey man you should bring all that decoration over to my dad’s house on Halloween. He gets like 100 trick-or-treaters.” And, that’s how the idea was born.

I hit up another friend of ours who helped out at our friends house two years ago, Ted. “Hey man we’re gonna build a haunted house. You in?” Ted and I showed up at my dad’s house and walked around the front yard brainstorming ideas.

Where would people scare? What we build? How would we build it? What path will they take? It was exhilarating to be bouncing ideas back and forth getting more and more excited.

We decided we would use pallets and cardboard to build our structure. We went dumpster diving and found a ton of really great wood other than the pallets we took. We also hit up Costco for large pallet-sized pieces of cardboard used to separate the products. They let you take it. We filled three shopping carts worth.

Arron was able to borrow a bunch of pipes and joints that used to be used to build a carport structure at his work. This would be our main hallway. We made the roof out of cardboard that we painted random ridiculous things on. I painted a ghost and a vagina.

We also needed to build a giant wall on the front of the yard to close in the area. We decided to make the base of the wall from pallets then put some tall thin strips of wood we rescued from a dumpster. On the tall pieces of wood we stapled the cardboard to them.

On the inside we wanted the wall to look like the kind of wall you would see in a abandoned house where you might find used heroin needs. I think we hit the mark of what we wanted to do exactly. Ted, my other buddy Neil, and I painted whatever popped into our minds and then we would paint over each others paint.

On the outside, street side, of the wall, we had bigger plans!

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Arron came over Sunday night before Halloween to set up all the decorations from his work. He was actually able to use them at another neighborhood event too. It’s fantastic that they were used four times.

We hung sheets from the tunnel structure to make it closed in. The sheets had been painted by consumers at Arron’s work! Then Arron, who is a wizard at design [check out his Instagram] started to create the interior environment.

Ted and I finished setting up pallets and walls in the yard area to make it more maze-like. We were concerned that the exit was a wide opening people could see in. Then they would be able to see where we were hiding. We ended up making a doorway with a caution-tape door. One of the crowds favorite pieces.


On Halloween we had about 300 people come through. We put up signs at big nearby intersections to bring more people in. Everyone loved it! We had people screaming, people crying, people laughing, one girl in dropped to the floor in the fetal position. Out front people were constantly posing for pictures with our wall.

We even got in some of the pictures with them.

So that’s the story of the haunted house.  But when I was thinking about the entire experience of creating this project I realized that I learned a surprising amount. I’m totally putting this on my resume. Here’s what I learned:

  1. If you believe in something you will find a way to get it done
    My friends and I truly believe in making Halloween great again. That is why we spent so much of our free time working on this project. Every time we hit any little snag we would just push through and keep moving forward.
  2. You don’t need money to create
    One thing I wish I could have explained to everyone that came through was that the entire haunted house was built for free. (I think I spent $16 on burlap, but then I actually found some in our backyard! We only used about a quarter of what I bought and I gave the rest to Arron for him to create art with).

    The haunted house was built for free! We borrowed lights, fog machines, and got all the building supplies out of the dumpster. People were impressed with our work even before they knew that.

    I just wish that could have been explained to them so that they think about what they could build for free if they wanted.

  3. Time spent working with friends is not working
    When i first told my dad we were commandeering his front yard for a haunted house he said, “that’s gonna be a lot of work.” And maybe it was. But, I don’t know. Because every time I went dumpster diving with Ted, was building with Arron, or painting with Neil I was having fun! I was working on a project with my friends. We were building off of each other creativity. We built something together that not one of us could have done alone.
  4. The path to happiness is doing what you love
    I felt so happy while working on this project. Every time we had an idea and then completed it I was thrilled. I was working on something that I wanted to do and it made me very happy.

    Maybe we can’t always do this in our jobs but that’s no excuse not to create something or do something you enjoy after work. We all work and we did this nights and weekends.

  5. You can accomplish more by working together
    I mentioned earlier my excitement that came from us brainstorming together. A lot of our ideas were collective. One person would say one thing then another person would be say we could do that if we did it like this. That’s how things got accomplished.
    When building the metal carport structure, Arron and I just started putting pieces together. We had a problem though because we need crossbeam structural support to hold up cardboard. Ted came up with the idea to use a hole saw to drill into wood and make it the size of the pipe then connect the pipe to that. Genius!
  6. The only way to fail is to not start
    Sometimes you just need to dive into something and figure it out as you go.
    For example, with the caution tape door. I had an idea of how to attach it on side and so I just started. While, Ted was holding up the other side he asked, “How are you going to attach this end?” “I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.” And we did.
    I think that if I waited to start working until I had it figured out it either would have taken a lot longer or maybe it would have never happened at all.



I just want to add that when it came time to clean up the haunted house we recycled all the cardboard, we sent the wood to be turned into mulch, and even random scraps of plastic were recycled at local facility that has a collection place for “mixed plastics.”

I believe it’s important to try our hardest to reduce waste regardless of what we are doing. But you can clearly see that it did not hinder our fun!

Use Earth911.com to find recycle collection for any item near you.


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